Scouting Report: Wolves at Rockets

Wolves (14-16) at Rockets (17-13) - 7 PM Toyota Center
Where to Watch: Fox Sports North
Where to Listen: 830 AM WCCO

*Get your questions on the radio airwaves during halftime! Just tweet questions to @WolvesRadio and listen to the halftime show hosted by John Focke on WCCO 830 AM.

The frequency with which the Timberwolves and Rockets have played this season has nearly resembled a playoff series. When Minnesota and Houston square off tonight at 7 p.m. from the Toyota Center, it will be the fourth time in four weeks the two teams have met.

But if this is a virtual playoff series, the Wolves are looking at tonight as Game 7. With four pivotal games against teams with .500 or better records taking them into All-Star Weekend, picking up a win is crucial to their hopes of moving back toward evening their own record before the break.

Houston was the one of the hottest teams in basketball when the two teams met on Jan. 23; the Rockets’ 107-92 victory at Target Center was their seventh consecutive win. Since then, the Wolves topped the Rockets 120-108 on Jan. 30 and 100-91 at Target Center on Feb. 4. Since their win over the Timberwolves on Jan. 23, the Rockets are 7-6 overall. They had lost two straight before holding on to beat Oklahoma City 96-95 on Wednesday.

The Wolves also went 7-6 during that same stretch, winning six of eight after their loss to Houston before dropping four in a row. Minnesota is coming off a 102-90 victory over Charlotte on Wednesday, which snapped its four-games skid.

Loving his performance

Wolves All-Star forward Kevin Love put together another dominant performance on Wednesday, scoring 30 points and adding 18 rebounds in the team’s victory over the Bobcats. He’s pieced together seven consecutive double-doubles—he leads the league in that category with 26—and is averaging 28.2 points and 16.5 rebounds over his past four games. Coach Rick Adelman said simply put, Love is as consistent as it gets.

“One thing he’s done every game is he’s come out ready to play,” Adelman said. “He’s on the floor 35-40 minutes, he’s going to get his rebounds, he’s going to be getting his opportunities. That’s the type of player he is.”

Wolves Minute Hosted By John Focke

Love put up a season-high 39 points against the Rockets in the teams’ first meeting, and he’s averaging 31.0 points and 12.0 rebounds in three contests against Houston this year.

Key matchup

Back court play for both teams has been key in this matchup. When Minnesota allowed Houston point guard Kyle Lowry to post a triple-double and shooting guard Kevin Martin to hit four 3-pointers and put up 31 points on Jan. 23, the Wolves lost. When they held at least one of the two in check, the Wolves won. Martin put together one of his finest offensive performances of the season on Jan. 23—scoring 31 points—but in his most recent trip to Target Center he scored two points on 1-of-10 shooting. It was the first of a five-game stretch in which he scores eight points or fewer four times, including zero against Memphis on Tuesday, before breaking out for 32 against the Thunder on Wednesday. Lowry had 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the teams’ first meeting and 24 points and 11 rebounds in the third, but he had just three assists in the 120-108 loss at Houston on Jan. 30.

Similar to the Rockets, Minnesota has had its most success this season when its guards are knocking down perimeter shots and making sound decisions with the basketball. They did just that on Wednesday against Charlotte, as guards Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea combined for 17 of the team’s 26 assists. Rubio has posted 34 assists in three games against the Rockets this season, including two double-doubles. Ridnour matched his season-high with four 3-pointers and scored 22 points in Minnesota’s win over Houston on Feb. 4.

By the numbers

Houston is 11-3 at home this season, but they’ve only played at Toyota Center twice this month. The Rockets returned home from a 3-3 road trip on Wednesday and promptly knocked off the Thunder, who has the top record in the Western Conference. Houston’s last home loss was against the Wolves, who used 34 points from Michael Beasley and a 42-point third quarter to knock off the Rockets. Since that night, Beasley has scored in double figures in six of the last nine games.

Since these two teams first squared off, the Wolves have found a bruising identity at the center position. Nikola Pekovic has produced seven double-doubles in his past 12 games, including 19.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in his past three games. Pekovic played 30 minutes on Feb. 4 against the Rockets—he didn’t play more than 19 in either of the first two meetings—and put up 11 point and nine rebounds on 4-of-7 shooting from the floor.

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